General and History
While some of the 350 to 500 Allium species are found in just about
all habitable regions of the Northern Hemisphere, the common onions
we eat probably originated in Western Asia. It is certain they were being
cultivated in the Mediterranean region, particularly Egypt, at least 5000
The ancient world had only a few varieties of onion, but today hundreds
of cultivars have been developed for specific purposes, regions, and month
of maturity. As with so many fruit and vegetable varieties now grown
worldwide, many important varieties were developed in California, which
grows more than 25% of the U.S. onion crop. Texas is also a significant
developer, particularly of sweet onions.
Specific cultivars are of little
culinary interest but are absolutely critical to onion growers. For instance,
onions start to bulb at a specific day length. The wrong cultivar for a
latitude may never bulb or it may bulb too soon resulting in undersize
onions. Classifications of culinary interest are:
- Size: For size information see
- White are preferred in Mexican cuisine and by onion processors.
The flavor is simpler (cleaner) but they are pretty much interchangeable
with yellow onions for cooking
- Yellow are the standard onion found everywhere. They come in
"sweet" and "storage" varieties and in many sizes.
- Brown is a controversial classification among onion experts.
For culinary purposes it's just another name for yellow.
- Red onions are popular sliced in salads for their attractive
color pattern but they may stain some cooked dishes. They are the
standard cooking onion in much of India and Southeast Asia.
- Sweet vs. Storage
- Sweet Onions have a high water content
and are lower in the sulphur compounds that make onions strong. Mildness
and relatively large size make them the darling of the fast food
hamburger trade, and for onion rings. See
Sweet Onions below.
- Storage Onions are your common supermarket varieties, red,
white and yellow. They come in a range of sizes from grape to mellon
and are drier and relatively strong compared to sweet onions. Keeping
properties are much better than for sweet onions - weeks to months
depending on season. See Onions below.
- Scallion / Green Onion - [UK Spring Onion] - Scallions are
onions that never produce a bulb or are harvested before they start
to form a bulb. The leaves taper from white at the base to deep green
over most of their length. Some varieties that would bulb in northern
regions can be grown as scallions farther south.
- Shape and Size
The various colors of onion come in a range of shapes and sizes.
Shape and size have no affect on strength and flavor but can be
critical to culinary textures.
- Flattened Globe onions are particularly attractive for
slicing for hamburgers or for onion rings as the shape maximizes yield
- Elongated onions are preferable for slicing lengthwise into
wedges for stir frying and such.
All Alliums are forbidden to Jains, as well as some sects and classes
among the Hindus and some Buddhists. In North America the Hari Krishna
sect says that is because odors of the breath offend Lord Krishna, but
in India it is because they are suspected of raising passion and
"inspiring to lust". For this reason they are traditionally forbidden to
monks and widows (the many unfair restrictions on widows in India are
starting to fade). These sects and classes use
Asafoetida to provide a similar sulphurous
sophistication to their recipes. Perhaps asparagus should be banned too,
for causing odors of the pee? After all, onions are members of the order
Asparagales, the asparagus order.
Muslims are strongly discouraged from eating garlic raw, and are
forbidden to pray at a mosque if they have recently done so. Muslims are
allowed to eat garlic if they have cooked it long enough to deodorize it.
Muhammad is on record as disliking the eating of garlic.
In Europe garlic is considered protective against vampires, werewolves
and demons, and against monsters in the Philippines.
- Allium cepa var cepa
Onions are one of the most important agricultural crops in the world,
and were probably one of the very first. They are considered important
medicinals for various ailments, are highly nutritious, store well,
and are particularly important to the flavor of the majority of recipes
in the world. They are prepared in many ways, using techniques tailored
to specific recipes, but take care - screw up the onions for your
dinner recipe and you might as well send out for pizza.
The National Onion Association defines a medium onion to be 5 ounces.
Onions that small are hard to find in Southern California onion bins, so
I, and some other cooks, prefer a 6 ounce onion, which produces 1-cup
|Small||4 oz - 5 oz ||1/2 cup|
|Medium ||5 oz - 7 oz ||1 cup|
|Large||7 oz - 10 oz ||1-1/2 cup|
Yellow Onion -
[Brown Onion, Spanish Onion (most of North America), Storage Onion]
This is the most common onion in North America and generally the lowest
cost. They vary in size from less than 4 ounces to well over 1 pound, and
in color from greenish yellow to as dark as the photo specimens, depending
on variety (there's an ideal variety for every growing region) and length
of storage. The largest of the photo specimens was 3-5/8 inches diameter
and weighed over 11 ounces. In cooking it can be used interchangeably
with white and red onions, but salads and salsas are more fussy.
Red Onion -
[Spanish Onion (New York and New Jersey only), Purple Onion (Europe,
Popular raw in salads, these globe shaped onions have relatively thick
layers and thicker dried skins. When cooked most of the color is lost, but
they are the most popular onion for cooking on the east coast of India.
They are preferred for growing in some regions because they're more resistant
to blight than yellow or white onions.
When caramelized this onion goes quite dark and a bit sticky, but has
good onion flavor. Of the photo specimens, the big one with leaves was
5-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 2 pounds 3-1/4 ounces. The regular ones
were 2-7/8 inches in diameter and weighed 6-7/8 ounces.
These offer a slightly cleaner, simpler flavor than regular yellow onions
but with the same onion bite. Mexican recipes always call for white
onions which are traditional there, and for some applications the clean
white color is desirable. For cooking there really isn't a noticeable
difference between the two, so substitute yellow onions if you don't have
white. Of the photo specimens, the big one with leaves was 4-1/2 inches
diameter and weighed 2 pounds 2-1/8 ounces. The regular ones were
2-7/8 inches diameter and weighed 7 ounces.
An extinct variety of yellow onion (RIP 1985).
Spanish Onions are sometimes mistakenly called Bermuda Onions.
Properly, this is a spherical yellow onion variety midway between
sweet and storage onions. With a water content higher than storage onions
they aren't as durable but will last longer than sweet onions.
Unfortunately the term "Spanish Onion" has been degraded to mean
regular non-sweet yellow onions in most of North America, but in New York
and New Jersey it means red onions. In the UK it means a mild white
onion. In Spain, onions are all Cebollas, which may be Nueva
if freshly picked or Roja if red, nothing more.
"Pearl Onion" -
These are not true Pearl Onions, which are a variety
of leek, but what passes as commercial pearl onions today. They are made
small by using a special variety and overcrowding in the field. These are
more economical to grow because real pearl onions take two years to
mature. They are easy to tell apart, as these are layered like other
onions, while the real ones are a single stem base.
Scallion / Green Onion -
[Spring Onion (UK); Allium cepa]
Scallions are onions of varieties carefully chosen to not bulb before they
reach harvest size. Generally, in the markets they are cut to about 13
inches long from the base of the bulb, but the photo specimens were
untrimmed and were up to 34 inches long. Recipes calling for "3 scallions"
are highly imprecise because scallions sold in North America vary from 1/4
inch to 7/8 inch diameter at the bulb end. Figure a standard scallion is
5/8 inch at the bulb and 13 inches long - adjust for the size you have on
Chinese / Korean / Japanese Scallions
- [Welsh Onion, Dae-Pa (Korea); Allium fistulosum]
These are a different species and don't belong here, but this
is where people will expect to find them. These scallions are the onions
of China. Traditional Chinese will use a pile of these rather than a
single regular onion because regular onions are considered "foreign",
which in Chinese dialects is a synonym for "inferior". Regular onions
may have been brought to China from India 2000 years ago, but certainly
were brought there by Europeans by 1600. For more on these onions,
see Welsh Onions.
Mexican Onion -
These are very similar to scallions, but the variety is selected to bulb.
They are picked when the bulbs reach about 3/4 inch diameter. The largest
of the photo specimens was 7/8 inch diameter.
These are the darling of the hamburger stand. Unusually mild because of
low sulphur and high water content, they are suited to be the raw onions for
the mass market. Many varieties are rather large so they make hamburger size
slices, and some varieties are rather flat, maximizing the number of large
slices or rings from each onion.
Most North American varieties of sweet onion were
developed in Texas, starting with Bermuda onion seeds from the Canary
Islands. These were selected and hybridized in various ways. Some varieties
cannot propagate but have to be planted from seeds specially produced by
seed growers from two varieties.
This famous variety of sweet onion is grown on the Hawaiian island of
Maui. Like most American sweet onions it is of Texas origin, but is smaller
than most of the mainland varieties. It hits the market early in the season
so it fetches a good price, lowest cost from May to August, higher from
September to April.
Attempts to grow Maui onions on the mainland are imperfectly successful.
The appropriate growing climate eliminates much of the country and their
unique flavor owes a lot to the red soil of the Haleakala volcano in which
they're grown. Even if you live in a southern state and have a recently
active volcano in your back yard, continental volcanos probably spew a mix
of minerals different from mid-ocean rift volcanos, so you still won't have
authentic Maui onions.
Varieties of sweet onion grown in Vidalia Georgia that have been
marketed intensely and very successfully. Formerly available only in
the spring, some are now stored in an oxygen free environment and
released in the fall. Because of their high water content they cannot
be stored for a long period.
The Vidalia Onion is actually Granex, developed in Texas. At first
all Vidalias were transplants shipped from Texas, but with the
development of herbicides to keep weeds down they were able to be
grown from seed. These have a somewhat flattened shape. The photo
specimens were typically 4.5 inches diameter, 2-7/8 inches high and
weighed 16 ounces.
Texas 1015Y - [PLU #4161]
This sweet onion was developed in the early 1980s at Texas A&M and
named for its ideal planting date. It was renamed Texas SuperSweet,
but distributors insisted they didn't want Texas SuperSweets, they
wanted 1015s. These are grown in Texas and normally available from
April to mid June, but methods like oxygen free storage have been
developed to extend availability. The photo specimen was 3-5/8 inches
diameter, 3-1/4 inches high and weighed 11-3/8 ounces.
This is actually only one of a number of sweet onions grown in
Texas, where onions are the leading vegetable crop, but it's the most
Another sweet onion, originating from the island of Corsica, grown
around Walla Walla in the state of Washington. Available from mid June
through mid August.
The name "Shallot" is used for several small Allium species, but here
in North America generally means the Allium cepa species. To
add confusion, in Australia the name may also refer to Scallions, with
"eschalot" specific to the shallots described here. English speakers
in Quebec, Canada also use "shallot" for Scallions.
[Éschalote (France); Scalogno (Italy); Bawang merah kecil
(Malay); Hom (Thai); Katem kror hom (Cambodia); Small onion,
Kanda, Gandana, Pyaaz, Gundhun, Cheriya ulli, Chuvanna ulli,
Chinna vengayam, Sambar vengayam, Praan (India);
Allium cepa var. aggregatum,
formerly Allium oschaninii]
Shallots have been a "gourmet" item in the U.S. and were mostly
imported from France and sold at around 2004 US $6.99 / pound, but
this has been changing. In California (where large quantities are now
grown), produce markets have them at 2014 US $1.99 or less (though
you can still pay a lot more in supermarkets and gourmet outlets).
This has been brought about by the large and growing Indian and
Southeast Asian populations here. Shallots are much used every day
items in those regions. Shallots are very important in many cuisines,
so they have their own Details and
Persian Shallot -
[Moo-Seer (Persia); Allium stipitatum]
These shallots are found wild from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan, but
are not found in our markets. Some are cultivated, but most are
gathered wild in the mountains of Iran, sliced and dried before
selling in the marketplaces. They are often used to flavor yogurt.
Photo by Abivard.boy contributed to the Public Domain.
French Grey Shallot -
[True Shallot; Griselle (French); Allium oschaninii]
These shallots are found wild from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan. They are
cultivated in France, but are not native there. Some are grown by
specialty growers in North America, particularly by growers of exotic
garlics, but are not likely to be found in local markets. They are
small and elongated compared to regular European shallots.
- [Allium sativum]
Garlic is probably native to Central Asia, but has been in cultivation
for well over 7000 years. It was already in common use in Egypt during
the building of the pyramids. Today it is indispensable in nearly all
cuisines of the Western Hemisphere, and has been carried to the New World
by the Spanish, French and Portuguese. Of course, certain sects and
classes in India are forbidden to use it as explained above.
There are many varieties of garlic with differing characteristics
(see Note O2). Unfortunately the only garlic available
in most of our markets is a single variety grown in China.
Raw garlic can cause unpleasant smelling breath and sweat when
consumed. This is not a problem when garlic is cooked as it becomes
mild and sweet, even if a whole lot of it is included in a recipe.
Unfortunately, cooking seriously reduces its medicinal properties.
Garlic has been used as a powerful medicinal for thousands of years
and over most of the Western world. It is used to treat bronchitis,
high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries tuberculosis, liver
disorders, dysentery, flatulence, colic, intestinal worms, rheumatism,
diabetes, fevers, and is thought to have anti-cancer properties. Modern
research indicates little effect with normal culinary consumption, so
garlic extracts are suggested.
Garlic   - Heads & Cloves
Of the many varieties of garlic, there are two basic types: Hardneck
(left in photo) and Softneck (right in photo). The hardneck type has
large, rather separate cloves, while the softneck has tight cloves
with a lot of very small ones near the center.
Softneck is grown by the Chinese and others who do bulk production
because it is more durable in storage, while small growers often grow
hardneck garlic because it is otherwise a more desirable product and
popular with shoppers at farmer's markets.
As a garlic plant matures, it develops multiple centers and then
splits into segments called "cloves", which will later sprout as
separate plants. A group of cloves under a single wrapper constitutes
a "head" of garlic.
When a recipe calls for a "clove of garlic" it means the large outer
cloves of the head. These should be at least 1-1/4 inches long and 5/8
inch wide, weighing at least 6 to the ounce. You can use several inner
cloves to make up the same weight.
Garlic cloves may begin to sprout, forming a green shoot in the
center. These sprouts have a more pungent taste than the rest of the
clove and many cooks recommend removing them.
In times past, nearly all garlic sold in North America was grown in
Gilroy, California. Today, most of our markets carry only a single
variety grown in vast quantity in China. While I find Gilroy garlic
superior, it is difficult to find even here in California.
Chinese garlic exporters have been convicted under U.S. unfair
trade laws. In response, the Chinese set up garlic companies, export
huge amounts at artificially low prices, then close the company before
U.S. regulators can respond. The day they close one company they
reopen under another name, often in the same building. Rinse and
For these reasons, when possible (it's seasonal) I buy my garlic
at Certified Farmer's Markets, where I can be sure it's locally grown,
relatively fresh, complies with U.S. trade laws and doesn't contain
any weird chemicals used to make it grow faster.
Thai Pickled Garlic -
[Kratiem Dong (Thai) | Ka Thiem Dog (Thai -
the pickling juice)]
Pickled Garlic is a much used ingredient in Thailand. Thai garlic
is in smaller heads than what we see in North America, with a larger
number of much smaller cloves. Typical heads are about 1-1/2 inch
diameter, and they are often pickled as whole heads. These cloves (and
often the pickle juice) are used in recipes and as a condiment.
Typically, Garlic, Water, Distilled Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Sodium
Benzoate (0.05%). It can also be easily made at home.
Details and Cooking.
Pearl Garlic -
[Solo Garlic, Single Clove Garlic, Yunan Garlic]
This is a single bulb variety of garlic which does not split into
cloves. Both bulbs and stalks can be used. It originates from the
Yunan provence of China and is sometimes found in the big Asian
markets here in Los Angeles. The photo specimens were
14-1/2 inches long with bulbs just over 7/8 inch diameter.
This is fresh garlic of a large cloving variety, purchased at a big
farmer's market in Pasadena, California in early June. The largest
head was 2-7/8 inch diameter.
Elephant Garlic - Not a garlic - see
Leeks originated in southeastern Europe and/or western Asia, but it
is certain they were used as food in ancient Egypt at least 4000 years
ago, probably much earlier. They were carried as far as the British Isles
in prehistoric times, where they are essential to the cuisine of Wales.
Common Leek -
[Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum]
This is the leek commonly found in North America in practically every
supermarket, produce market, farmer's market and produce stand. For
culinary purposes a "medium leek" is cut to 13 inches long (excluding
roots) and weighs about 9 ounces with a bulb about 1.6 inches diameter.
Prepared for use it will weigh about 5-3/4 ounces. The photo shows a
leek as marketed and as prepared for use in cooking.
Details and Cooking.
Taiwan Leek -
[Allium ampeloprasum var. ???]
These leeks are now grown in California and appear in the Asian markets
here. They are much smaller than the common leek with bulbs up to 1.5
inches diameter and shafts about 0.83 inch diameter. They were cut to
the same standard 13 inch length (not counting roots) used for Common
Leeks sent to market. Preparation and usage is pretty much the same as
for the common leek.
Elephant Garlic -
[Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum]
Elephant Garlic looks like a giant garlic head, tastes a lot like
garlic, can be used in place of garlic, but it's not actually garlic -
it's a leek. The flavor is milder than real garlic and some people
prefer that, especially when it is included raw, such as in salads and
salad dressings. Young flower heads can also be cooked as a vegetable.
The photo specimen, shown with two large cloves of regular garlic in
front, was 3-1/2 inches in diameter and weighed 6-3/8 ounces. Some
sources relate Elephant Garlic to Giant Russian Garlic, but that is
not correct. Giant Russian is actually garlic.
[Allium ampeloprasum var. kurrat]
This leek is very popular in the Levant and North Africa, particularly
Egypt where it has been cultivated for a few thousand years. It is
mainly used as greens. You can see from the photo the greens have been
cut off before, and the plant is about ready for cutting again. The
photo specimens are growing near Alexandria, Egypt.
Photo © AUB (American University of Beirut),
permission granted for non-commercial use.
Tarah Chives -
[Tara, Tarah (Persian); Allium ampeloprasum var.
This is what is sold as "chives" in many Southern California produce
markets. particularly those serving significant Middle Eastern
communities. They are actually a leek green. They are a bit firmer
and stronger in taste than Garlic Chives.
Pearl Onion -
[Allium ampeloprasum var. sectivum]
True pearl onions were once grown commercially, but are now mostly
grown in home gardens, mainly for pickling, and are popular in
northern Europe. Commercial "pearl onions" are generally regular
onions made tiny by overcrowding in the field. Real pearl onions
have only one layer, not multiple layers like a regular onion.
They have fallen out of favor commercially because they take 2 years
to form a mature bulb.
Photo © Raimond Spekking (cropped) distributed
under license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia Commons,
There are a number of rather different members of the Onion family sold
as "Chives", usually without modifiers, so it's a bit confusing. To
straighten this out, and to provide an easy link from recipes, they now
have their own Chives page.
Most experts admit to about 750 species of alliums, but some say
more, and some say less. Aside from the few of wide culinary use (listed
above), there are others of lesser or regional use.
- [Vietnamese leek, Chinese Scallion, Japanese
Scallion; Cu Kieu (Viet); rakkyo (Japan); Jiaotou, Xie (China);
Allium chinense ]
This plant is found wild and cultivated throughout East and Southeast
Asia, including Japan, Mongolia and eastern Russia. It is now also
cultivated to some extent in Cuba, California and Hawaii. While both
greens (tubular, like scallions) and bulbs are usable fresh, the bulbs
are most noted for being pickled (as in the photo). These pickles are
particularly popular in Vietnam and Japan, especially to accompany
spicy curries (yes, Japanese curry, adopted from the British Navy
during the Meiji period). The photo specimens were purchased from a
large Asian market in Los Angeles (San Gabriel, actually) where they
are sold from a bulk tub, but are also available in jars. They are a
very enjoyable mild pickle.
[Wild Leek, Ail des bois (French), Allium tricoccum]
Ramps are native to the Appalachian mountain chain from South Carolina
north into Canada. They are particularly popular in West Virginia and
Quebec, Canada. Both the scallion like bulbs and the leaves are eaten
and they are described as being like a combination of onion and garlic.
Very seasona1, they are available only from late winter through early
Photo © i0127
While there are ramp festivals in Virginia and West Virginia and
restaurants there serve them in season, in most of the country they
are available only through gourmet outlets at absurd prices. Commercial
production is experimental and seems to work only in a forest setting.
Protective laws are in place in Quebec where ramps cannot be sold
or handled commercially, but poachers sneak them across the border
into Ontario to sell to restaurants.
- [Buckrams, Wild garlic, Broad-leaved garlic,
Wood garlic, Bear leek, Bear's garlic; Allium ursinum ]
This plant, related to Chives, is widely distributed across Europe,
including the British Isles. It is usually gathered in the wild, but
every year there are cases of poisoning from mistaking Lily of the
Valley, Autumn Crocus or Arum Lily for Ransons. At early stages of
growth these may resemble Ransons. The bulbs and flowers are edible,
but it is mainly the leaves that are used, in salads, as an herb or
as a cooked vegetable and in soups. In Russia, flower stems are
preserved in salt and eaten as a salad. Leaves are used as a wrapper
when making some versions of Cornish Yarg cheese. The leaves are used
to make pesto in regions deficient in basil.
Photo by Sony Mavica distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
Welsh Onion -
[Chinese / Korean Scallion; Japanese Bunching Onion; Dae-Pa (Korea);
Negi (Japan); Escallion (Jamaica); Allium fistulosum]
This onion is native to Siberia or northern China. The name does not
indicate origin, or even popularity, in Wales. It comes from the Old
German "welsche", meaning foreign, having come from the far northeast.
These have hollow leaves like common onions (A. Cepa) but also
have large hollow scapes (flower stalks) and never form a bulb. They
can withstand frost, but not a hard freeze.
In the West are used mainly as Scallions, but in much of China
they are the main cooking onion instead of regular onions, because
those are considered "foreign", which, in Chinese dialects is a
synonym for "inferior". The photo specimens were purchased from a
Korean market in Los Angeles. The longest was 24 inches (not counting
roots) and just over 1 inch diameter at the white end.
Egyptian Onion -
[Tree Onions, Topsetting Onions, Walking Onions;
Allium x proliferum]
This onion has been genetically identified as being a cross between
Common Onion (A. cepa) and the Welsh Onion (A. fistulosum).
The common English name, Egyptian Onion, is a complete misnomer, as
these have never been popular in Egypt. They are now thought to have
been brought from India by Romani people. The bulblets range in size
from less than 1/4 inch to about 1-1/8 inch diameter. They leaf and
grow at the top of the scape (flower stalk) until it falls down, after
which they root where they fell. The larger bulblets are often pickled,
while the smaller are used in soups and the like.
Photo by H. Zell distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
- [Wild Onion, Wild Garlic, Drummond's Onion;
This onion is native to North America from the plains of South Texas
west into California. It continues to be gathered and use as food by
American Indians throughout that region, usually as an addition to
meat dishes, but in California often as a main dish. It contains a
significant amount of inulin, an indigestible fart producing sugar,
so it is usually given a long cooking time to break the inulin down
into simpler sugars. This plant can be quite invasive in more fertile
Photo by Abbamouse (cropped) distributed under
license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
- [Wild Onion, Wild Garlic, Meadow Garlic, Canadian Garlic;
This onion is native to North America from New Brunswick, Canada, to
Florida and west to Montana and eastern Texas. It has been naturalized
in Cuba where it is now grown in home gardens for culinary use. The
bulbs are small and covered by a tough fibrous skin, but the flavor
is very onion-like. It was formerly gathered by American Indians and
early European settlers for use in cooking, but it's safety has been
questioned. It can cause gastric problems in small children, reduces
iodine takeup by the thyroid gland and poisons livestock, sometimes
Photo by George F Mayfield (cropped) distributed under
license Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Three Cornered Leek -
[Wild garlic; Allium triquetrum]
This plant is native to southwest Europe, northwestern Africa and the
Island of Madeira and the Canary Islands. It has been introduced to
British Isles, New Zealand, Turkey, Australia, California, Oregon,
and South America. It is easily identified by its shallow "V" shaped
leaves and its scapes (flower stalks) which are concavely triangular.
All parts of the plant are edible raw or cooked, tasting similar to
leeks or scallions. The leaves are used to make pesto in regions
deficient in basil.
Photo by Meneerke Bloem distributed under license Creative
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
Few Flowered Leek -
This plant is native to the mountains of the Caucasus and Iran. It is
considered highly invasive, forming mats that smother native plants,
so it is illegal to plant it in the wild in some regions. It is easily
identified by its long flat leaves and its scapes (flower stalks)
which are triangular. It's flower heads usually are almost all
bulblets, often with just one white flower. All parts of the plant
are edible raw or cooked, tasting similar to leeks or scallions. The
leaves are used to make pesto in regions deficient in basil.
Photo by Botaurus contributed to the Public Domain"
Nodding Onion -
[Lady's Leek; Allium triquetrum]
This plant is native to much of North America, including Canada, from
Ontario west through British Columbia. In the United States it is
found in the Appalachian Mountains, the Great Lakes Region, the Ohio
and Tennessee River Valleys, the Ozarks and the Rocky and Cascade
Mountains from Mexico to Washington, but not in California. It is
easily identified by its grass-like leaves and its scapes (flower
stalks) which bend downwards at the flower heads. This plant does not
produce bulblets in the flower heads. All parts of the plant are
edible, and are usually cooked as ingredients due to their strong
Photo by Fritzflohrreynolds distributed under license
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
Health & Nutrition
General: The commonly eaten Alliums are safe to
eat in any quantity you are likely to consume. They are low in sodium,
free from fats and cholesterol and contain a pretty good mix if vitamins
and minerals, particularly sulphur, which is deficient in many people's
Preparing: The outer layers of Onions and Shallots are
higher in some important nutrients, so you should peel off the minimum
amount of layers. If you are going to fry the onions until browned, you
may have to peel one layer deeper to get even browning. For complete
details of see our Working with Onions
Tears: When damaged, the cells of Onions, Shallots and
some other Alliums release enzymes which combine with sulphur
compounds to produce propanethiol S-oxide vapors. When these reach the
moisture in your eyes they form Sulphuric Acid, which stings, causing
increase in tear production to wash it away. The intensity of this
effect depends on how much sulphur was in the ground the plants were
grown in, and how badly the bulb is damaged. It helps if the bulbs are
refrigerated before cutting. To minimize damage use a very thin, razor
sharp knife like a Santoku.
Medicinal: Onions, garlic and leeks have played an
important role in traditional medicine and healing since before the
dawn of history. Both internal and topical applications have been
common. Today they are being studied for their anti-cancer properties,
in hopes varieties can be developed particularly high in these cancer
Other characteristics being studied are the ability of onions to lower
blood pressure, control blood clotting, reduce blood cholesterol and
improve the ratio of "good" to "bad" cholesterol. Anti-bacterial
characteristics are also gaining attention, particularly for fighting
drug resistant bacteria.
Diabetes & Sugars: Onions contain a modest amount
of sugars and have a very low glycemic index. Sugar content is 9.93 grams
per cup (210 grams). This consists of 30% Fructose, 47% Glucose, 23%
Vampires: Garlic is reputed to repel vampires, a
characteristic important to the health of any person set upon by them.
This has not been confirmed by controlled scientific studies as no such
studies have been conducted due to insufficient numbers of vampires
volunteering to participate. Garlic is also said to be effective against
Demons and Werewolves.